How to ensure uninterrupted supply of medical products, technologies amidst COVID-19
MEDICAL experts have made recommendations on how to ensure uninterrupted supply of medical products, technologies and services during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The medical experts during a webinar organised by Bloom Public Health and Lagos Business School Sustainability Centre in partnership with World Health Organisation (WHO) Nigeria, IQVIA and Nigeria Health Watch challenged both government and the private sector to prioritise Research and Development (R&D), as the current state of neglect characterised by poor funding, inadequate number of grants and high cost of research materials cannot breed innovation.
The webinar, held last week, was titled “COVID-19 in Africa – the impact on Medical products and technologies: what we know and what we should be doing”.
Bloom Public Health is a Think tank that convenes innovative African minds in Public health, and forges global partnerships to design interventions that are tailored to the continent. It was born out of the need to create African driven solutions to solve African public health issues, especially in the pharmaceutical sector.
IQVIA, formerly Quintiles and IMS Health, Inc., is an American multinational company serving the combined industries of health information technology and clinical research.
The participants called for early preparation for future epidemics or pandemic by deliberate investment in R&D since like in wars, preparations are not done during a pandemic. The discussants challenged the governments of African countries to turn the continent from its current import driven economy to continent of indigenous R&D, local production and export its technology and innovations.
They warned that the effect of COVID-19 on the medical products and technologies includes increase in fake, adulterated and falsified medicines, risk of shortages of medicines, impact of the shortage on healthcare delivery and on the economy, diversion of drugs of interest for other medical treatments to fight COVID-19, and over-dependence on imports and poor patronage to the local industry.
The participants called for development of domestic pharmaceutical industry to reduce preference to imported products, which leads to underutilisation of the industry. “We need to create policies to protect the industry by either increasing tariffs or placing an outright ban on the products. Pharmaceutical manufacturing Parks were recommended as potent and effective models for revolutionizing the Pharmaceutical sector,” they said.
The participants said for good outcome and innovation, there is a need for an intervention loan for the pharmaceutical sector, it should be interest free and this initiative must continue post COVID-19 pandemic.
They said the need to reward quality by setting the achievement of quality standards as a prerequisite for local procurement. “When we do not reward quality, it is disincentive for companies to do quality improvements.”
The webinar had participants across the globe including North America, Europe, United Kingdom, Asia and Africa. Members of the organised private sector, the legislature, government ministries, departments, and agencies as well as the academia, pharmaceutical industry, investors, innovators, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), health professionals and the public health community equally participated.
The participants said Nigeria’s attitude to aid and donations has to change. “We have to put more emphasis on the donations of know-how rather than donations of product.” The webinar called for integrated market as the African continental free trade agreement creates a large market and a large buying power.
The participants called for need to strengthen the country’s risk based regulatory systems to expedite the issuance of Emergency Use Authorization during pandemics. Participants also encouraged government to invest more on the digitalisation of Medicines’ Regulatory systems and purchasing platform to enhance ease of doing business.
They recommended regulatory flexibility in times of emergencies: In emergencies, time is everything. African regulatory bodies are all invoking emergency authorizations just like the developed countries. However, we need to act in a timely manner with this. It is better to deploy risk-based systems such as reliance and mutual recognition.
The participants said government must give priority and focus to herbal medicines’ research and development (an untapped potential), because, this is Africa’s area of strength and comparative advantage.
At the end of the discussions and deliberations, participants noted some pertinent issues and made the following resolutions:
*That the current COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the strongest health systems and threatened the weak ones prevalent mostly in low and middle-income countries (LMICs), especially in Africa. ‘Medical products, vaccines and technologies’ is one of WHO’s six building blocks of the health system. Access to quality medicines and health products is an indicator that measures a countries’ progress towards Universal Health Coverage (UHC).
*COVID-19 has clearly shed light on the vulnerability of the supply chain, amplifying the inadequacies and constraints in the supply system for medical products and technologies in Africa.
*Currently, local medicines manufacture is plagued by poor infrastructure, inadequate compliance, lack of protection from unfair international competition and poor patronage from buyers.
*With emergency efforts to find optimum medical products to manage COVID-19 and the global focus to mitigate the shortage of medical products and devices in the COVID-19 pandemic, came the influx/proliferation of falsified and substandard products.
*Without adequate quality assurance measures for medicines and vaccines, the world and especially Africa risks a parallel pandemic of substandard and falsified products; this poses serious threat to the economy and security of the continent and even globally.
*There is a need to plan strategically to ensure manufacture, access, protection, and monitoring of supply chains in the face of inescapable shortages, price increases, and national hoarding in order to guarantee access to safe, quality assured, and effective medical products on which Africa will depend on.
*Africa countries need to look at lessons learned and build on them to ensure the uninterrupted supply of medicines and health technology during pandemics and post pandemics.
*Africa needs to build intra- and inter – regional alliances and capacity.
The participants concluded: “The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed our vulnerabilities in the Medicines’ supply chain in every country of the world and has taught us lessons. The question now is ‘what have we learnt so that we can do better next time’? We should use this communal experience to think about how we want the future to be for systems as well as equitable and affordable access to medicines.
“We must think global but act local. A successful industry is one that is well patronized. We must create policies and build capacity in Africa that will protect the Pharmaceutical industry so that it is strong and vibrant and can meet the challenges of the next pandemic.”
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